Climate Dynamics

, Volume 50, Issue 9–10, pp 3195–3217 | Cite as

Interannual and long-term sea level variability in the eastern Indian Ocean and South China Sea

  • Soumya Mohan
  • P. Vethamony


Sea level anomalies (SLAs) derived from satellite observations (over a period of 22 years) and tide gauge data compiled from 66 stations from the eastern Indian Ocean and South China Sea (SCS) and western Pacific Ocean have been analyzed to study the interannual to long term variation of SLAs in the eastern Indian Ocean and SCS. Spatial patterns of sea level variability on the eastern boundary of the Indian Ocean exhibit non-coherent variability with SCS but show coherent variability with western Pacific Ocean. We find coherent variability in interannual SLAs in the Bay of Bengal, Andaman Sea, Malacca Strait and Java Strait. A large fraction of interannual SLA variations in the eastern SCS and interior SCS is linked to El Niño-Southern Oscillation (ENSO) and rest of the region is characterized by small scale interannual variations. The interannual SLAs in the SCS show seasonality with pronounced variation during winter and fall seasons. Interannual surface wind anomalies associated with Indian Ocean Dipole (IOD) and ENSO explain sea level interannual variability in the eastern Indian Ocean and SCS. The decadal sea level variability associated with Pacific Decadal Oscillation (PDO) and decadal ENSO are observed in the SCS.


Sea level anomalies El Niño–Southern oscillation Indian ocean dipole Pacific decadal oscillation Decadal ENSO 



We thank Director, CSIR-NIO, Goa for providing constant support to this work. The first author acknowledges the University Grants Commission, Govt. of India for granting research fellowship (letter no. 10/3097/11) and the Academy of Scientific and Innovative Research (AcSIR) for providing necessary facilities. Monthly tide gauge sea level data have been obtained from the Permanent Service for Mean Sea Level (PSMSL) and University of Hawaii Sea Level Centre (UHSLC). Niño 3.4 index is obtained from and DMI from PDO index is obtained from ERA-Interim reanalysis surface wind products are obtained from This is NIO contribution no. 6073.


  1. Amedo CL, Villanoy C (2003) Wind stress curl and surface circulation in the South China Sea and the Philippine Sea. Science Diliman 15Google Scholar
  2. Amiruddin A, Haigh I, Tsimplis M, Calafat F, Dangendorf S (2015) The seasonal cycle and variability of sea level in the South China Sea. J Geophys Res Oceans 120:5490–5513CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  3. Ashok K, Guan Z, Yamagata T (2001) Impact of the Indian Ocean dipole on the relationship between the Indian monsoon rainfall and ENSO. Geophysical research letters 28:4499–4502CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  4. AVISO (2014) A new version of SSALTO/Duacs products available in April 2014. CNES 1.1Google Scholar
  5. Balmaseda MA, Mogensen K, Weaver AT (2013) Evaluation of the ECMWF ocean reanalysis system ORAS4. Q J R Meteorol Soc 139:1132–1161CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  6. Bhaskaran P, Gupta N, Dash M (2014) Wind-wave climate projections for the Indian Ocean from satellite observations. J Mar Sci Res Dev S 11Google Scholar
  7. Carrere L, Faugère Y, Ablain M (2014) Improvement of pressure derived corrections for altimetry using the ERA-Interim dataset. Ocean Sci Discuss 12:825–842CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  8. Cartwright D, Edden AC (1973) Corrected tables of tidal harmonics. Geophys J Int 33:253–264CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  9. Cartwright D, Tayler R (1971) New computations of the tide-generating potential. Geophys J Int 23:45–73CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  10. Chang CW, Hsu HH, Wu CR, Sheu WJ (2008) Interannual mode of sea level in the South China Sea and the roles of El Niño and El Niño Modoki. Geophys Res Lett 35Google Scholar
  11. Chen H, Tkalich P, Malanotte-Rizzoli P, Wei J (2012) The forced and free response of the South China Sea to the large-scale monsoon system. Ocean Dyn 62:377–393CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  12. Cheng X, Xie S-P, Du Y, Wang J, Chen X, Wang J (2015) Interannual-to-decadal variability and trends of sea level in the South China Sea. Climate Dyn 1–14Google Scholar
  13. Clarke AJ, Liu X (1993) Observations and dynamics of semiannual and annual sea levels near the eastern equatorial Indian Ocean boundary. J Phys Oceanogr 23:386–399CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  14. Clarke AJ, Liu X (1994) Interannual sea level in the northern and eastern Indian Ocean. J Phys Oceanogr 24:1224–1235CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  15. Couhert A et al (2015) Towards the 1 mm/y stability of the radial orbit error at regional scales. Adv Space Res 55:2–23CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  16. Currie J, Lengaigne M, Vialard J, Kaplan D, Aumont O, Naqvi S, Maury O (2013) Indian Ocean Dipole and El Niño/Southern Oscillation impacts on regional chlorophyll anomalies in the Indian Ocean. Biogeosciences 10:6677–6698CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  17. Deng W, Wei G, Xie L, Ke T, Wang Z, Zeng T, Liu Y (2013) Variations in the Pacific Decadal Oscillation since 1853 in a coral record from the northern South China Sea. J Geophys Res Oceans 118:2358–2366CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  18. Dong L, Zhou T, Dai A, Song F, Wu B, Chen X (2016) The footprint of the inter-decadal Pacific oscillation in Indian Ocean sea surface temperatures. Sci Rep 6(1):21251CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  19. Drushka K, Sprintall J, Gille ST, Brodjonegoro I (2010) Vertical structure of Kelvin waves in the Indonesian Throughflow exit passages. J Phys Oceanogr 40:1965–1987CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  20. Ducet N, Le Traon P-Y, Reverdin G (2000) Global high-resolution mapping of ocean circulation from TOPEX/Poseidon and ERS-1 and 2. J Geophys Res Oceans 105:19477–19498CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  21. Fang G, Chen H, Wei Z, Wang Y, Wang X, Li C (2006) Trends and interannual variability of the South China Sea surface winds, surface height, and surface temperature in the recent decade. J Geophys Res Oceans 111Google Scholar
  22. Fang W, Qiu F, Guo P (2014) Summer circulation variability in the South China Sea during 2006–2010. J Mar Syst 137:47–54CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  23. Feng X, Tsimplis MN, Marcos M, Calafat FM, Zheng J, Jordà G, Cipollini P (2015) Spatial and temporal variations of the seasonal sea level cycle in the northwest Pacific. J Geophys Res Oceans 120:7091–7112CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  24. Frankcombe LM, McGregor S, England MH (2015) Robustness of the modes of Indo-Pacific sea level variability. Clim Dyn 45:1281–1298CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  25. Guan Z, Yamagata T (2003) The unusual summer of 1994 in East Asia: IOD teleconnections. Geophysical research letters 30Google Scholar
  26. Gupta N, Bhaskaran PK, Dash MK (2015) Recent trends in wind-wave climate for the Indian Ocean. Curr Sci 108:2191–2201Google Scholar
  27. Han W, Webster PJ (2002) Forcing mechanisms of sea level interannual variability in the Bay of Bengal. J Phys Oceanogr 32:216–239CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  28. Han W, Meehl GA, Rajagopalan B, Fasullo JT, Hu A, Lin J, Large WG, Wang JW, Quan XW, Trenary LL, Wallcraft A, Shinoda T, Yeager S (2010) Patterns of Indian Ocean sea-level change in a warming climate. Nat Geosci 3(8):546–550CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  29. Holgate SJ et al (2013) New data systems and products at the permanent service for mean sea level. J Coastal Res 29:493–504CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  30. Hwang C (2001) Interannual variation of sea level of South China Sea and its relationship with ENSO. In: ASPG Fourth Workshop, ASPG Management board and the Shanghai Astronomical Observatory, CAS, Shanghai, PR China, 14–19Google Scholar
  31. Izumo T et al. (2010) Influence of the state of the Indian Ocean Dipole on the following year’s El Niño. Nat Geosci 3:168–172CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  32. Jensen TG (2007) Wind-driven response of the northern Indian Ocean to climate extremes. J Clim 20:2978–2993CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  33. Keerthi M, Lengaigne M, Vialard J, de Boyer Montégut C, Muraleedharan P (2013) Interannual variability of the Tropical Indian Ocean mixed layer depth. Clim Dyn 40:743–759CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  34. Kuo N-J, Zheng Q, Ho C-R (2000) Satellite observation of upwelling along the western coast of the South China Sea. Rem Sens Environ. 74:463–470CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  35. Kuo N-J, Zheng Q, Ho C-R (2004) Response of Vietnam coastal upwelling to the 1997–1998 ENSO event observed by multisensor data. Rem Sens Environ 89:106–115CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  36. Le Traon P, Nadal F, Ducet N (1998) An improved mapping method of multisatellite altimeter data. J Atmos Oceanic Technol 15:522–534CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  37. Lee T, McPhaden MJ (2008) Decadal phase change in large-scale sea level and winds in the Indo-Pacific region at the end of the 20th century. Geophys Res Lett 35:L01605Google Scholar
  38. Li Y, Han W (2015) Decadal sea level variations in the Indian Ocean Investigated with HYCOM: roles of climate modes, ocean internal variability, and stochastic wind forcing. J Clim 28:9143–9165CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  39. Liang W-D, Jan J, Tang T (2000) Climatological wind and upper ocean heat content in the South China Sea. Acta Oceanographica Taiwanica 38:91–114Google Scholar
  40. Liu Q, Feng M, Wang D (2011) ENSO-induced interannual variability in the southeastern South China Sea. J Oceanogr 67:127–133CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  41. Liu X, Wang J, Cheng X, Du Y (2012) Abnormal upwelling and chlorophyll-a concentration off South Vietnam in summer 2007. J Geophys Res Oceans 117Google Scholar
  42. Luu Q, Tkalich P, Tay T (2014) Sea level trend and variability around the Peninsular Malaysia. Ocean Sci Discussions 11:1519–1541CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  43. Mantua NJ, Hare SR, Zhang Y, Wallace JM, Francis RC (1997) A Pacific interdecadal climate oscillation with impacts on salmon production. Bull Am Meteorol Soc 78:1069–1079CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  44. McCreary J, Han W, Shankar D, Shetye S (1996) Dynamics of the East India Coastal Current: 2. Numerical solutions. J Geophys Res Oceans 101:13993–14010CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  45. Murtugudde R, Busalacchi AJ (1999) Interannual variability of the dynamics and thermodynamics of the tropical Indian Ocean. J Clim 12:2300–2326CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  46. Murtugudde R, Busalacchi AJ, Beauchamp J (1998) Seasonal-to-interannual effects of the Indonesian throughflow on the tropical Indo-Pacific Basin. J Geophys Res Oceans 103:21425–21441CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  47. Newman M, Compo GP, Alexander MA (2003) ENSO-forced variability of the Pacific decadal oscillation. J Climate 16:3853–3857CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  48. Nidheesh A, Lengaigne M, Vialard J, Unnikrishnan A, Dayan H (2013) Decadal and long-term sea level variability in the tropical Indo-Pacific Ocean. Clim Dyn 41:381–402CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  49. Patra A, Bhaskaran PK (2016) Trends in wind-wave climate over the head Bay of Bengal region. Int J Climatol 36:4222–4240CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  50. Pei Y, Zhang R-H, Zhang X, Jiang L, Wei Y (2015) Variability of sea surface height in the South China Sea and its relationship to Pacific oscillations. Acta Oceanologica Sinica 34:80–92CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  51. Peng D, Palanisamy H, Cazenave A, Meyssignac B (2013) Interannual sea level variations in the South China Sea over 1950–2009. Mar Geodesy 36:164–182CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  52. Potemra JT (1999) Seasonal variations of upper ocean transport from the Pacific to the Indian Ocean via Indonesian straits. J Phys Oceanogr 29(11):2930–2944CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  53. Potemra JT, Lukas R (1999) Seasonal to interannual modes of sea level variability in the western Pacific and eastern Indian Oceans. Geophys Res Lett 26:365–368CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  54. Priestley MB (1982) Spectral analysis and time series. Academic Press, 3Google Scholar
  55. Qiu F, Fang W, Fang Y, Guo P (2012) Anomalous oceanic characteristics in the South China Sea associated with the large-scale forcing during 2006–2009. J Marine Sys 100:9–18CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  56. Qu T, Mitsudera H, Yamagata T (2000) Intrusion of the North Pacific waters into the South China Sea. J Geophys Res Oceans 105:6415–6424CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  57. Qu T, Kim YY, Yaremchuk M, Tozuka T, Ishida A, Yamagata T (2004) Can Luzon Strait transport play a role in conveying the impact of ENSO to the South China Sea? J Clim 17:3644–3657CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  58. Rao SA, Behera SK (2005) Subsurface influence on SST in the tropical Indian Ocean: Structure and interannual variability. Dyn Atmos Oceans 39:103–135CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  59. Rao R, Kumar MG, Ravichandran M, Rao A, Gopalakrishna V, Thadathil P (2010) Interannual variability of Kelvin wave propagation in the wave guides of the equatorial Indian Ocean, the coastal Bay of Bengal and the southeastern Arabian Sea during 1993–2006. Deep Sea Research Part I: Oceanographic. Res Pap Hist Med Assoc 57:1–13Google Scholar
  60. Reason C, Allan R, Lindesay J, Ansell T (2000) ENSO and climatic signals across the Indian Ocean basin in the global context: Part I, interannual composite patterns. Int J Climatol 20:1285–1327CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  61. Rizal S, Damm P, Wahid MA, Sundermann J, Ilhamsyah Y, Iskandar T (2012) General circulation in the Malacca Strait and Andaman Sea: a numerical model study. Am J Environ Sci 8:479CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  62. Rong Z, Liu Y, Zong H, Cheng Y (2007) Interannual sea level variability in the South China Sea and its response to ENSO. Global Planet Change 55:257–272CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  63. Roxy MK, Ritika K, Terrey P, Masson S (2015) The curious case of Indian Ocean warming. J Clim 27(22):8501–8509CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  64. Rudenko S, Otten M, Visser P, Scharroo R, Schöne T, Esselborn S (2012) New improved orbit solutions for the ERS-1 and ERS-2 satellites. Adv Space Res 49:1229–1244CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  65. Saji N, Yamagata T (2003a) Structure of SST and surface wind variability during Indian Ocean dipole mode events: COADS observations. J Clim 16:2735–2751CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  66. Saji N, Yamagata T (2003b) Possible impacts of Indian Ocean dipole mode events on global climate. Clim Res 25:151–169CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  67. Saji N, Goswami B, Vinayachandran P, Yamagata T (1999) A dipole mode in the tropical Indian Ocean. Nature 401:360–363Google Scholar
  68. Scharroo R, Lillibridge J, Smith W, Schrama E (2004) Cross-calibration and long-term monitoring of the microwave radiometers of ERS, TOPEX, GFO, Jason, and Envisat. Mar Geodesy 27:279–297CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  69. Shaw P-T, Chao S-Y, Fu L-L (1999) Sea surface height variations in the South China Sea from satellite altimetry. Oceanol Acta 22:1–17CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  70. Soumya M, Vethamony P, Tkalich P (2015) Inter-annual sea level variability in the southern South China Sea. Global Planet Change 133:17–26CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  71. Sprintall J, Gordon AL, Murtugudde R, Susanto RD (2000) A semiannual Indian Ocean forced Kelvin wave observed in the Indonesian seas in May 1997. J Geophys Res Oceans 105:17217–17230CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  72. Sprintall J, Wijffels SE, Molcard R, Jaya I (2009) Direct estimates of the Indonesian Throughflow entering the Indian Ocean: 2004–2006. J Geophys Res Oceans 114Google Scholar
  73. Tay SHX, Kurniawan A, Ooi SK, Babovic V (2016) Sea level anomalies in straits of Malacca and Singapore. Appl Ocean Res 58:104–117CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  74. Thomson, R. E., and W. J. Emery (2014) Data analysis methods in physical oceanography. Elsevier, 3, AmsterdamGoogle Scholar
  75. Tozuka T, Qu T, Yamagata T (2007) Dramatic impact of the South China Sea on the Indonesian throughflow. Geophysical research letters 34Google Scholar
  76. Trenberth KE (1997) The definition of El Niño. Bull Am Meteorol Soc 78:2771–2777CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  77. Trenberth KE, Stepaniak DP (2001) Indices of El Niño evolution. J Clim 14:1697–1701CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  78. Wahr JM (1985) Deformation induced by polar motion. J Geophys Res Solid Earth 90:9363–9368CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  79. Wang D, Liu Q, Huang RX, Du Y, Qu T (2006) Interannual variability of the South China Sea throughflow inferred from wind data and an ocean data assimilation product. Geophysical research letters 33Google Scholar
  80. Wang H, Kumar A, Wang W, Xue Y (2012) Influence of ENSO on Pacific decadal variability: an analysis based on the NCEP climate forecast system. J Clim 25:6136–6151CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  81. Wijffels S, Meyers G (2004) An intersection of oceanic waveguides: Variability in the Indonesian Throughflow region. J Phys Oceanogr 34:1232–1253CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  82. Wong GT, Ku T-L, Mulholland M, Tseng C-M, Wang D-P (2007) The South East Asian time-series study (SEATS) and the biogeochemistry of the South China Sea—an overview. Deep Sea Research Part II: Topical Studies. Oceanography 54:1434–1447Google Scholar
  83. Woodworth P, Player R (2003) The permanent service for mean sea level: an update to the 21st century. J Coast Res 287–295Google Scholar
  84. Wu C-R (2013) Interannual modulation of the Pacific Decadal Oscillation (PDO) on the low-latitude western North Pacific. Prog Oceanogr 110:49–58CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  85. Wu CR, Chang CW (2005) Interannual variability of the South China Sea in a data assimilation model. Geophysical research letters 32Google Scholar
  86. Xie SP, Annamalai P, Schott FA, McCreary JP (2002) Structure and mechanisms of south Indian ocean climate variability. J Clim 15(8):864–878CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  87. Xie SP, Xie Q, Wang D, Liu WT (2003) Summer upwelling in the South China Sea and its role in regional climate variations. J Geophys Res Oceans 108Google Scholar
  88. Yamagata T, Behera SK, Luo JJ, Masson S, Jury MR, Rao SA (2004) Coupled ocean-atmosphere variability in the tropical Indian Ocean. Earth’s Climate:189–211Google Scholar
  89. Yang H, Wu L (2012) Trends of upper-layer circulation in the South China Sea during 1959–2008. Journal of Geophysical Research: Oceans 117(C8)Google Scholar
  90. Yu K, Qu T (2013) Imprint of the Pacific decadal oscillation on the South China Sea throughflow variability. J Climate 26:9797–9805CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  91. Yu W, Xiang B, Liu L, Liu N (2005) Understanding the origins of interannual thermocline variations in the tropical Indian Ocean. Geophysical research letters 32Google Scholar
  92. Yuan Y, Yang H, Zhou W, Li C (2008) Influences of the Indian Ocean dipole on the Asian summer monsoon in the following year. Int J Climatol 28:1849CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  93. Zhang X, Church JA (2012) Sea level trends, interannual and decadal variability in the Pacific Ocean. Geophysical research letters 39Google Scholar
  94. Zhang R-H, Rothstein LM, Busalacchi AJ (1998) Origin of upper-ocean warming and El Nino change on decadal scales in the tropical Pacific Ocean. Nature 391:879–883CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  95. Zhou J, Li P, Yu H (2012) Characteristics and mechanisms of sea surface height in the South China Sea. Global Planet Change 88:20–31CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  96. Zhu Y, Fang G, Wei Z, Wang Y, Teng F, Qu T (2016) Seasonal variability of the meridional overturning circulation in the South China Sea and its connection with inter-ocean transport based on SODA2. 2.4. Journal of Geophysical Research: OceansGoogle Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag GmbH Germany 2017

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.CSIR-National Institute of OceanographyDona PaulaIndia

Personalised recommendations